The bonus of being Childfree is that may have the time, money, and freedom to do what we want to do. The challenge is in knowing what we want to do. We may have too many options and may get stuck in analysis paralysis. Taking a sabbatical, a 3-6 month break from work, may be just the tool to help recenter and find yourself. The two big questions then are: What is a sabbatical? Can I afford to take a sabbatical?
What is a sabbatical?
A sabbatical is literally a “break from work”. There are many variations of a sabbatical, but the goal is usually to reskill, learn, grow, or otherwise improve yourself. We are talking about more than taking a vacation. It is a purposeful opportunity to find yourself. In academia, sabbaticals are often for a semester or a year and focused on growing one research topic or learning a new skill.
If you find yourself restless or super stressed, it might be time to consider a sabbatical. The goal is to use the time to make space in your life and allow for self-reflection. When you are stuck on the gerbil wheel of work then self-reflection is nearly impossible. We get stuck doing mindless work, and mindfulness is just a buzzword. Your body then manifests this as stress, restlessness, lack of sleep, anxiety, and in a variety of other ways. Chances are that your spouse, friends, and family may notice that you are ‘on edge’ well before you are.
You get to design your sabbatical any way you want, but it does need a structure, goals, and an outcome. Here is an example:
6 Month Sabbatical
Goal – To find work that is meaningful to me.
- 2 months – Decompress. Watch Netflix, garden, hang out with the dogs, whatever.
- 2 months – Soul searching. Try things, talk to people, shadow people at their jobs, take a class
- 2 months – Network and start in a new direction. Start that new business, network to find that new job, and enroll in that educational program.
The timing does not have to be exact, but you want to have time to decompress, find yourself, and try something new. Here are a few tips for each section:
Decompress – We all need some time to ourselves. At times I’m working so hard that I’m not even sure what I enjoy, what my hobbies are, or what I would do if I wasn’t working. You need to schedule time to just do nothing. If you are more of an extrovert and people person, this might include time hanging out with friends and family. If you are more of an introvert it might include quality time playing video games alone or taking long hikes. The whole point is to create space for growth.
Soul searching – This is a bit harder. It is time to ask yourself the hard questions. What do you want your life to look like? What have you always wanted to do? What would you 10 years from now be proud of you doing? The challenge is to not think about the financial components – yet. Start by dreaming and setting goals and then we can figure out the finances. We often limit ourselves too much by our finances. If you could be happier making less, then do it and figure out a budget to live on.
There are many tools out there to help find yourself, but I like using George Kinder’s 3 Questions for Life Planning. Take time to go through each of the three questions and journal your answers. When you get to the end, you may find that you have a better handle on what really matters and your goals for life. If you are doing this with your spouse, start filling out the answers individually, then share.
- Imagine you are financially secure, that you have enough money to take care of your needs, now and in the future. How would you live your life? Would you change anything? Let yourself go. Don’t hold back on your dreams. Describe a life that is complete and richly yours.
- Now imagine that you visit your doctor, who tells you that you have only 5-10 years to live. You won’t ever feel sick, but you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do in the time you have remaining? Will you change your life and how will you do it? (Note that this question does not assume unlimited funds.)
- Finally, imagine that your doctor shocks you with the news that you only have 24 hours to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Ask yourself: What did you miss? Who did you not get to be? What did you not get to do?
With an idea of your goals or wishes, go try them out. If you decide you want to open that great cupcake shop, go do some gig work in a bakery or other food service. Maybe you want to get into healthcare, reach out and see if you can shadow people. If you want to go back to school, go audit some classes or take some classes online. At this stage, you are just trying things out. It is ok if they do not go well.
Once you have a good idea of what you want to do, grab a lunch (or virtual lunch) with someone who is living that life or doing that job now. Ask them three questions:
- How did they get there?
- Would they do it again?
- What advice would they give you?
You will be surprised by how willing people are to share their own stories and provide advice.
Network and start – With your goal in place, it is time to create and implement a plan of action.
If you decided to start a business, this is when you would create an MVP (minimal viable product) and try it. That might be making cupcakes out of your house and getting people to try them. The point is not to have everything fleshed out, but to just start. You will change your business and your business plan dozens of times in your first year, so just try something.
If you decided to change careers or jobs, it is time to skill up and network. If you need a skill, certification, or the like before getting the job, get started. Look for boot camps, online learning, or accelerated programs. Then you need to work your own personal network to find somewhere you can get your foot in the door. This is especially true if you are changing careers. You need to find friends, family members, or friends of friends to get you in front of hiring managers. You will need to be able to explain why you are changing careers and how your existing skills transfer. It will be a challenge but with the right connections, it can be done.
If you decided to go back to school, be sure to look at all of your options. If you need (or want) another degree, try to find ways to have it paid for. Most schools offer research, teaching, or graduate assistantships that can not only provide a stipend but may cover tuition in return for part-time work. Get creative on paying for school and make taking out student loan debt the absolute last option.
If you decided it is time to retire (or not go back to work) then it is time to talk to an Advice-Only, Fee-Only, Fiduciary, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ to create a financial plan. That is what I do, and you can schedule a no-cost introductory meeting at https://calendly.com/coachdrjay/childfree We can work through your options and create a comprehensive financial plan for retirement.
Can I afford to take a sabbatical?
If you decide you want to take a sabbatical, your financial considerations are different if you are single or in a couple:
If you are single, you will want to make sure you are out of debt and have enough money saved for double the length of your sabbatical. That means if you are going to take a 6-month sabbatical, you want to have 12 months of expenses saved first. Effectively you are saving for a planned 6 months without an income and an emergency fund for 6 months of unplanned expenses.
You will also need a plan for healthcare coverage. When you leave your current employer, you may be eligible for COBRA insurance. The bottom line here is that they can charge you 102% of the premium they pay for your healthcare for 18-36 months. It may be pricey, but it allows you to keep on your existing plan. If you aren’t going to do COBRA, then look at your state’s healthcare marketplace. Make sure you account for healthcare in your expenses.
For couples, you still want to be out of debt and have a 6-month emergency fund before you take a sabbatical. The difference is that you may be able to live off your spouse’s income and healthcare. If you cannot live on one income and cover your expenses, then you might want to build a bit more of a cushion before the sabbatical (or cut back on expenses).
Many Childfree couples embrace an approach I call the Gardener and the Rose The theory is simple, one person is growing (the Rose) while the other person provides support (the Gardener). This approach works best if you have planned turns to ‘swap’ roles so you both get to grow and support. In practice, it may be harder to be the Rose and grow but the result is that we all get our turn to bloom.
A sabbatical is not for everyone, but it is a way to find yourself. When we take the time to stop and grow, we often find that there is something else we want in life. It might be a new job, starting a business, going back to school, retirement, or whatever. You have chosen a different LifeScript™ in being Childfree, now it is time to write your own script for the future.
If you need help, I’m here. I do life and financial planning for Childfree people. I intentionally combine life and finances as they are nearly impossible to pull apart. If you want someone to bounce ideas off of, work through the process or to create a plan, just reach out. I offer a no-cost 60-minute introductory meeting at https://calendly.com/coachdrjay/childfree and I look forward to meeting you.